15 February 2012

Review: THE HOT ROCK, Donald E. Westlake

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 720 KB
  • first published 1970
  • Publisher: MysteriousPress.com/Open Road (October 25, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B005UK7TVS
  • #1 in the Dortmunder series
  • Source: I bought it.
 Synopsis (Amazon)

John Dortmunder leaves jail with ten dollars, a train ticket, and nothing to make money on but his good name. Thankfully, his reputation goes far. No one plans a caper better than Dortmunder. His friend Kelp picks him up in a stolen Cadillac and drives him away from Sing-Sing, telling a story of a $500,000 emerald that they just have to steal. Dortmunder doesn’t hesitate to agree.

The emerald is the crown jewel of a former British colony, lately granted independence and split into two nations: one for the Talabwo people, one for the Akinzi. The Akinzi have the stone, the Talabwo want it back, and their UN representative offers a fine payday to the men who can get it. It’s not a simple heist, but after a few years in stir, Dortmunder could use the challenge.

My take

With financial backing by Major Patrick Iko, the UN Ambassador from Talabwo, John Dortmunder puts together a  team to steal the Balabamo Emerald from the exhibition at New York Coliseum. When the first attempt at the heist comes unstuck, and one of the team ends up in jail, so there are a succession of fresh attempts.

Iko has agreed to pay each member of the team a daily retainer and a final amount. He also agrees to supply whatever guns etc Dortmunder requires. As the plot progresses, attempts to retrieve the emerald become more bizarre, the resulting equipment requests become even more bizarre. Dortmunder's determination to retrieve the emerald becomes stronger with each phase of the plot. For Dortmunder, the emerald becomes an albatross around his neck, his destiny. He must get it.

To me it seemed that HOT ROCK had been written with an eye to a film script. There are passages that owe a lot to slapstick comedy, and yet at the same time the scenarios feel like serious attempts to resolve conundrums. How do you break into a prison? How do you raid a bank vault?

I read HOT ROCK because this week contributors to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books are paying tribute to the work of Donald E.Westlake.
It occurred to me that it was likely I had never read any of his books. Various participants suggested that I begin with THE HOT ROCK. I have enjoyed the book and may even read another at some time.

My rating: 4.3

The Dortmunder series (Fantastic Fiction)

1. The Hot Rock (1970)
2. Bank Shot (1972)
3. Jimmy the Kid (1974)
4. Nobody's Perfect (1977)
5. Why Me? (1983)
6. Good Behaviour (1987)
7. Drowned Hopes (1990)
8. Don't Ask (1993)
9. What's the Worst That Could Happen? (1996)
10. Bad News (2001)
11. The Road to Ruin (2004)
12. Watch Your Back! (2005)
13. What's So Funny? (2007)
14. Get Real (2009)
Thieves' Dozen (2004)

You might like to read this article on The Thrilling Detective.


Steven J. Wangsness said...

The movie (with Robert Redford, George Segal, Zero Mostel) is great.

George said...

THE HOT ROCK is probably my favorite Donald E. Westlake book overall.

BVLawson said...

In the preface to his story collection "Thieves' Dozen," I love what Westlake had to say about that: "After 'The Hot Rock' and its ensuing movoie, in which I was astonished to learn that Dortmunder was Robert Redfort, I thought we were quit of each other."

Naomi Johnson said...

I think the Dortmunder series grows stronger with each book, funnier as the characters become more developed and the situations more bizarre.


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